Enough Theory Already!!

I love Jungian/Archetypal psychology. Let me say that up front. HOWEVER, I am reminded of a comment made by a professor many years ago when I told her that I love metaphor. She said, "Love it, but don't get lost in it." Later I was briefly a part of a Friends of Jung group that would gather and have a speaker about Jungian theory. After a few meetings I started getting uncomfortable because I wanted to yell, "How does this relate to real life?" meaning, just because you can wrap a neat theory around something, doesn't actually change the situation. Not many months after this feeling, the group announced that it was disbanding. I was not surprised.

One criticism of Jungian theory is that it has become so esoteric we begin to sound like a secret cult with code words and secret handshakes, helping the well-to-do to be better-to-do. (They are the only ones who can afford such assisted individuation.) What benefit is there in amplifying a personal or communal tragedy to 15 mythic stories if there is no practical guidance suggested by these myths to help the individual or the community?

I invite analysts, social activists, shamans, etc. who currently use Jungian theory in ways that inform them in the cause of making the world a little better AND ask how they have gone about connecting the theory with real world need, actual usage of theory.  Either reactive or proactive examples would be welcome. Maybe even asking the community for input would be helpful as well.

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  • Dimitri,
    I attended a Depth Psych program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA, but I live in the Bay Area. I am completing hours as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern.
  • Ed: No, I'm not limited by insurance expectations directly. I'm actually still an intern in CA, working for an agency serving low-fee clients. All of my adult clients are self-paying. Some MediCal children. I too tend to begin with more surface explorations and see how things develop.

    Dimitri: This (and many other experiences) have transformed me into a more patient therapist, more trusting of the process, and far less attached to my own agenda.
  • Hi Dimitri,

    Sorry if I was unclear. I mean that I have used these Jungian techniques successfully in a real world way (Responding to Ed's original post) but have also used behaviorally-based interventions, (which I had not-so-secretly disdained as inferior to deeper, more soulful techniques). My point here is that I DO use my training in and love for depth modalities, but have also come to respect DBT, CBT, etc as valid, valuable modalities. Hope this clarifies.

    An example of a case where I had to back off from my depth perspective: A client came to session and shared three separate incidents from the previous 2 weeks related to keys and locks--being locked out of work, home, car, having wrong keys, lost keys, incorrect access codes. It was astonishing to me, the symbolism and its relevance for this person's life were virtually screaming at us. I gently offered my observation that there might be something to this and was unequivocally told it was "malarky". Clearly, this client was not in a position to benefit from my brilliant observation ;-) I brought the therapeutic focus to behavioral and cognitive awareness and restructuring. Since that time, this same client has shared dreams and been open to their symbolism, but this shift happened in the client's time, not mine.
    • Barbara: Glad you shared your experience. Sounds like what was first termed malarky (never knew how to spell that before :) ) helped seed later depth sharing. All in psyche's good time.
      Sometimes I have started with a more "surface" modality and found the client hungry for more depth. Its all in the "magic" of the moment. Are you limited by insurance expectations?
  • As a therapist I have a depth/Jungian perspective, but I utilize many different tools in assisting my clients. Sometimes they need behavior modification (boo-hiss lol) techniques and so that's what I give 'em. It's all about being balanced and not getting so fixated on my one way of seeing things or framing problems that we miss a perfectly good intervention or perspective from another tradition.

    That said, I have had amazing real world outcomes utilizing dream work, imaginal techniques, mythological connections, and archetypal illumination both for myself and my clients. The trick for me has been not to force my perspective onto things. It is not enough to see the possibility of applying a Jungian perspective, it has to be right--for the moment, for the client, and as you say, it has to make real world sense.

    I heard some statistics last week about the factors that determine the efficacy of therapy. It was said that 30% could be attributed to the person of the therapist--caring, presence, unconditional positive regard, etc., all that Rogerian stuff. 50% was attributable to client engagement/commitment to the process, and the other 20% was a catch-all of other factors such as theory, interventions, and unknown factors. I think it is safe to say that what the therapist brings to the work also impacts client engagement and commitment, so the 30% is probably underestimated.

    My two cents :-)
  • Thanks for your response to my person plea. I'm also glad you mention that using Jungian theory is not just child's play. As to Jung's place in bringing the value of the East to the West, I might expand that and say that Jung's work emphasized to the West that we are not the center of the universe as the source for all knowledge and original thought. Funny you mention an organic chemistry book in third grade. For me, it was Grey's Anatomy that as a third grader I poured over. Jung developed his theories while practicing his profession rather than learning all the theory, accepting it and then, like a mechanic, starting to fix psyches. Theory and practice and personal experience informed each other. My cry came from a place where I am currently, steeped in theory with far less practice and experience. I have to keep remembering that Jung resisted the idea of a "school of thought" being created out of his findings and would often state, in the words of today, "But that's just me talking."
    Well, back to the books and my analyst.
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